Muhammad as a Religious Leader: Revelations, Preaching and Followers

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Koran being revealed to Muhammad

Islam came to Iraq by way of the Arabian Peninsula, where in A.D.610, Muhammad — a merchant of the Hashimite branch of the ruling Quraysh tribe in the Arabian town of Mecca — began to preach the first of a series of revelations granted him by God through the angel Gabriel (known to Muslims as Jabraʾil). A fervent monotheist, Muhammad denounced the polytheism of his fellow Meccans. Because the town's economy was based in part on a thriving pilgrimage business to the shrine called the Kaaba and numerous other pagan religious sites in the area, his censure earned him the enmity of the town's leaders. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Muhammad married a rich widow when he was twenty-five years old; although he managed her affairs, he would occasionally go off by himself into the mountains that surrounded Mecca. As he approached middle age, Muhammad spent a lot of time fasting and meditating and was reportedly very upset by the commercialization of the Kaaba, the corrupting influences that wealth had brought his tribe and the loss of traditional tribal values, namely the rich had begun looking out for themselves rather than the poor members of their tribe. His family said he was prone to dreams and visions and occasionally fell into long, moody silences

A preview of spiritual life that lay before him occurred in A.D. 605. While the Kaaba, a holy site to Arabs, was being restored in Mecca there was a dispute as to who should put its sacred stone back in its place. It was agreed that the next man to enter the precincts should settle the dispute. This man turned out to be Muhammad.

On one of his visits by himself into the mountains, Muslim belief holds that the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad and told him to recite aloud. When Muhammad asked what he should say, the angel recited for him verses that would later constitute part of the Quran, which means literally "the recitation." Muslims believe that Muhammad continued to receive revelations from God throughout his life, sometimes through the angel Gabriel and at other times in dreams and visions directly from God. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Saudi Arabia: A Country Study, U.S. Library of Congress, 1992 *]

Websites on Muhammad: Encyclopædia Britannica ; Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet — PBS Site ; Prophet Muhammad; Islamic History: History of Islam: An encyclopedia of Islamic history ; Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World ; Sacred Footsetps ; Internet Islamic History Sourcebook ; Islam IslamOnline ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; ; BBC article ; Islam at Project Gutenberg

Role of Muhammad in Islam

Muhammad viewed himself as a sort of religious guide. He never say himself as the leader of a religion and abhorred the idea of being an object or worship. Charles F. Gallagher wrote in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: Muhammad’s position as the sole communicant of God’s word to man is attested in the basic Muslim profession of faith: “There is no God but God and Muhammad is His Prophet.” This credo, although it does not occur in a single phrase in the Qur’ān itself, has become the foundation of Muslim self-identification. It differentiates the believer from the nonbeliever and Islam from other religions by emphasizing that Muhammad is not one prophet among many but the seal of the prophets and that the revelation given to him was the ultimate and unchangeable exposition of divine will. [Source: Charles F. Gallagher, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 1960s,]

The function of the hadīth (a law or idea based on the words or actions of Muhammad) reinforced this position, as may well have been one of its main purposes, by preserving for later generations a portrait of the personality of Muhammad in warm and simple details which link the believer to him in an atmosphere of pious affection that has grown through the centuries. Through the device of the hadīth, which contrasts strongly with the formalism and transcendentalism of the Qur’ān, Muhammad is kept from becoming a dim historical figure; he emerges as a venerable, just, but understandable human leader of his flock. In this way Islam maintains the principle of the strictest monotheism, while tempering it with a human touch which, to judge by the historical experience, has fulfilled the needs of ordinary Muslims in all ages.

It is true that this devotion has sometimes seemed to approach adulation or even outright worship, particularly in the past century, when a new consciousness of Christianity led some Muslim biographers of Muhammad to present his life in ways that clearly reveal the influence of the story of Jesus. However, both orthodox Muslim thought and the practice of the masses have kept the fine distinction between ceremonial veneration and anthropolatry.

Muhammad's Vision

Muhammad receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel
Muhammad was reflective in nature and deeply spiritual, often retreating o the quiet and solitude of the desert around Mount Hira. It was there, while meditating in a cave, during the month of Ramadan in 610, on a night remembered in Muslim tradition as the Night of Power, that Muhammad was called to be a prophet of God. Muhammad heard a voice commanding him to "recite." He was frightened and replied that he had nothing to recite. After the angel, identified as Gabriel, repeated the command, and mentioned the name of Allah, the words began flow: "Recite in the name of your Lord who has created, created man out of a germ cell. Recite for your Lord is the Most Generous One, who has taught by the pen, Taught man what he did not know." Muhammad came to believe the words were directly from During the rest of his life Muhammad continued to receive these revelations. The words were remembered and recorded, and form the text of the Holy Qu'ran, the Muslim scripture. [Sources: BBC, July 8, 2011; John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Muhammad was 40 when he experienced his first vision while mediating in a dark cave and asking for a message from the true god. He had been contemplating the injustice of idols desecrating the house of Abraham and was sleeping when a bright light appeared and a voice suddenly commanded him to read the words that appeared on a brocaded coverlet. He responded, "But I can not read." This was not surprising. In Muhammad's time written Arabic was used only as an aid for memorization.

The voice insisted that Muhammad "Recite" and grabbed Muhammad by the throat and shook and choked him. Muhammad said, “Recite what?” “Recite in the name of your Lord who has created, created man from a drop of blood. Recite, for your Lord is most generous...Who taught man what he did not know.”

Out of fear Muhammad ran from the cave. The voice belonged to the archangel Gabriel, who was the same angel who delivered the news to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Halfway down the mountain, Gabriel appeared and told Muhammad "thou art the messenger of God" and insisted it was his duty was to "arise and warn" his people that there was only one God: Allah. The event is celebrated during Ramadan.

The experience was so overwhelming it brought Muhammad to his knees. When he got home he was so shaken up he hid under a blanket and had to be comforted by his wife who told him: “Allah will not let you down, because you are kind to relatives, you speak only the truth, you help the poor, the orphaned and needy, and you are an honest man.”

Muhammad's Revelations and the Qur’an

Muhammad had other revelations over the next 21 years. They were painful experiences. He often broke out into sweats and suffered convulsions. After them he thought he might be losing his mind and said he often felt “my soul had been torn away from me.” and he had serious doubts about whether they were truly messages from God, especially since the intervals between the revelations were long.

20120509-Koran 22.jpg
The words revealed to Muhammad are said to have sounded like the ringing of a bell. During the revelations Muhammad went into a trance which he said "overwhelmed and bore him down." When the illiterate prophet emerged from the trance he usually related what he heard to his companions who said that Muhammad spoke in an ecstatic manner that was quite different from his normal speech.

Muhammad revelations were later formed into the Qur’an. The early revelations initially were not written down but when their importance was realized they were all recorded "on palm leaves and flat stones and the hearts of men" as well as scraps of leather, bark and animal shoulder bones (the Arabs had no paper at that time).

It generally believed that Muhammad received the short chapters first during his Meccan period and the longer ones when he was in Medina and had become a military and political leader. Some Jews accused Muhammad of receiving his revelations from a learned Jew who read him scriptures from the “ Torah” . Muslims regard this as blasphemy. They argue the fact that Muhammad couldn’t read or write as proof that he received pure, divine revelations.

Muhammad’s Revelation in a Judeo-Christian Context

Muhammad was almost more like Martin Luther than Jesus Christ or The Buddha. He did not think that he was founding a new religion with a new scripture. Rather he thought he was reaffirming the one God belief already held by Christians and Jews, to the Arabs. The Koran's revelations were seen as a return the polytheistic age of Abraham, when monotheism emerged. Muslims believe that God sent revelations first to Moses (The Ten Commandment and other laws in the Hebrew scriptures, the Torah), then to Jesus (the Gospels), and finally to Muhammad (the Koran). [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

John L. Esposito wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: The revelations Muhammad received led him to believe that, over time, Jews and Christians had distorted God's original messages to Moses and, later, to Jesus. Thus, Muslims see the Torah and the Gospels as a combination of the original revelations and later human additions, or interpolations. For example, Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus (his elevation from prophet to Son of God) are seen as changes to the divine revelation from outside or foreign influences.

The Koran contains many references to stories and figures in the Old and New Testaments, including Adam and Eve, Abraham and Moses, David and Solomon, and Mary and Jesus. Indeed, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned more times in the Koran than in the Gospels. Muslims view Jews and Christians as People of the Book, who received revelations through prophets in the form of revealed books from God.

Adaption of Muhammad Message to Local Beliefs

Muhammad preaching

Charles F. Gallagher wrote in the “International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences”: Of prime importance in the formation of Muhammad’s doctrines, was the existence of two intertwined strands of tradition in pre-Islamic Arab life. One was the animistic beliefs of tribal society, which ascribed powers to inanimate objects, stones, trees, etc., as well as to certain human categories (soothsayers, sorcerers) and to nonhuman elements (jinn). Entangled with this Arab paganism, however, there was an ill-defined monotheism, which may have owed something to Jewish and Christian influences. This was exemplified by prophets (singular, hanif) who opposed a nativistic monotheism to the pagan polydemonism, which no longer satisfied the Arabs’ desire for a broader religious experience. The hanif’s, despite their monotheism, were unwilling to accept Judaism or Christianity as such. The Qur’an describes Abraham as a hanif, and thus asserts itself as a restoration of the true, indigenous Abrahamic monotheism, which had been corrupted by Jewish and Christian beliefs. [Source: Charles F. Gallagher, “International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences”, 1960s,]

The supreme accomplishment of Muhammad in the Qur’an was to make use of these two elements but to disentangle them at the same time, thus opening the religious imagination of the Arabs to new horizons without too abruptly cutting away their old cultural and emotional roots. This delicate operation involved simultaneously banning most animistic associations but amalgamating others with the new religion by reinterpreting them in a monotheistic way. This restructuring of pagan practice and terminology can be seen most successfully in the incorporation of the earlier religious pilgrimage to the sacred region of Mecca and the circumambulation of the Black Stone, in the adoption of the ritual sacrifice of sheep, and in the new application of terms that formerly referred to pagan customs but that are clothed in richer and broader monotheistic meaning in the Qur’an. In this reconstruction, by lifting Arab spiritual values out of the incoherence in which they were enmeshed and by focusing them on the concept of a supreme God who encompassed and stood above all previous formulations, Muhammad created a distinctive religious edifice. Although it contains elements of earlier faiths, it can be understood only as a unique, new entity possessing its own structure and dynamics.

Muhammad Begins Preaching

God instructed Muhammad to declare his new faith among the people of his region. At first he was hesitant. For two years after his first revelation he kept his experiences to himself. The only people he told anything to were his wife Khadija and her cousin, a Christian monk. It was the cousin who told Muhammad that the voice was that of a holy messenger and that Muhammad had been selected as a prophet of God.

Laurie Goldstein wrote in the New York Times: Khadija was his first convert. At first he shared his revelations with a small group of friends and family members, who became his disciples, “convinced that he was the long-awaited Arab prophet.” As Muhammad, who was illiterate, recited new passages, believers wrote them down: a compilation that became the Qur’an. [Source: Laurie Goldstein, New York Times, May 20, 2016 ==]

In A.D. 612 he began preaching and trying to win converts to a religion he believed had been around for some time but had not been communicated to the Arabs in their language. The core of his message was that materialism was not the answer, wealth needed to be shared with the less fortunate to create a just society and if it wasn’t society would collapse. During the first ten years after his revelation Muhammad was largely ignored by the people of Mecca. He preached about monotheism outside the Kaaba and asserted that Allah was the same single God worshipped by Jews and Christians. He was often ridiculed and sometimes pelted with stones.

According to the BBC: ““Believing that God had chosen him as his messenger Muhammad began to preach what God had revealed to him. The simple and clear-cut message of Islam, that there is no God but Allah, and that life should be lived in complete submission to the will of Allah, was attractive to many people, and they flocked to hear it. [Source: BBC, July 8, 2011-07-08 |::|]

Muhammad Attacks the Gods of Quraysh

20120509-Muhammad_7.jpg Patricia Crone wrote: “Ibn Ishaq informs us that the turning point of Muhammad's career as a prophet came when he began openly to attack the ancestral gods of Quraysh and to denounce his own ancestors. This was a turning point because in so doing, he attacked the very foundations of his own tribe; and it was for this that he would have been outlawed or killed if his own kinsmen had not heroically continued to protect him — not for the threat that his monotheist preaching allegedly posed to the pagan sanctuary or Meccan trade. He was, after all, no more than a local eccentric at the time, and Quraysh were quite willing to tolerate his oddities, including his minor following, as long as he confined his teaching to abstract truths about this world and the next. But they were not willing to tolerate an attack on their ancestors. By his they were outraged,and quite rightly so: a man who tries to destroy the very foundation of his own community is commonly known as a traitor. [Source: Patricia Crone, “Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam,” Princeton University Press. 1987. Beginning with pg. 231 |-|]

“But Muhammad would scarcely have turned traitor without some vision of an alternative community. In denouncing his own ancestors, he had demonstrated that his God was incompatible with tribal divisions as they existed; and this incompatibility arose from the fact that his God, unlike that of the Christians, was both a monotheist and an ancestral deity. Allah was the one and only God of Abraham, the ancestor of the Arabs; and it was around ancestral deities that tribal groups were traditionally formed. It follows that it was around Allah, and Allah alone, that the Arabs should be grouped, all the ancestral deities that sanctioned current divisions being false. If we accept the traditional account of Muhammad's life, Muhammad was thus a political agitator already in Mecca, and it was as such that he offered himself to other tribes. "If we give allegiance to you and God gives you victory over your opponents, will we have authority after you?" an 'Amin is supposed to have asked, fully aware that ac- ceptance of Muhammad was acceptance of a ruler with ambitious plans. It was also as such, not merely as an otherworldly arbitrator, that he was accepted in Medina. |-|

“Assuming that Medinese society was rent by feuds, as opposed to united by proto-kings, it is not difficult to explain why the Medinese should have been willing to experiment with Muh. ammad's political programme; but given that Arabia had never been politically united before, and was never to be so again, it is certainly extraordinary that he and his successors should have succeeded in bringing this unification into effect. Why did the Arabs in Muhammad's time find the vision of state structures and unification so attractive?

“It is customary to invoke Meccan trade in answer to this question. Quraysh, we are told, had in effect united most of Arabia already, numerous tribes having acquired an interest in the conduct of Meccan trade as well as in the maintenance of the sanctuary; inasmuch as the interests of Mecca and Arabia at large had come to coincide, Muhammad's conquest of Mecca amounted to a conquest of most of Arabia, though the process of unification was only to be completed on the suppression of the ridda. But though it is true that the suppression of the ridda completed the process, this is not an entirely persuasive explanation. If the interests of Mecca and the Arabs at large had come to coincide, why did the Arabs fail to come to Mecca's assistance during its protracted struggle against Muhammad? Had they done so, Muhammad's statelet in Medina could have been nipped in the bud. Conversely, if they were happy to leave Mecca to its own fate, why should they have hastened to convert when it fell? In fact, the idea of Meccan unification of Arabia rests largely on Ibn al-Kalbl's tl-tradition, a storyteller's yarn. No doubt there was a sense of unity in Arabia, and this is an important point; but the unity was ethnic and cultural, not economic, and it owed nothing to Meccan trade. |-|

Muhammad preaching

Muhammad Message and Arab Tribalism

Patricia Crone wrote: Muhammad's success evidently had something to do with the fact that he preached both state formation and conquest: without conquest, first in Arabia and next in the Fertile Crescent, the unification of Arabia would not have been achieved. And there is no shred of evidence that commercial interests contributed to the decision, on the part of the ruling elite, to adopt a policy of conquest; on the contrary, the sources present conquest as an alternative to trade, the reward of conquest being an effortless life as rulers of the earth as opposed to one as plodding merchants. Nor is there any evidence that the collapse of Meccan trade caused an "economic recession" that contributed to the enthusiasm with which the tribesmen at large adopted this policy.44 It is, of course, legitimate to conjecture that trade may have played a role, but there is no need for such conjecture. [Source: Patricia Crone, “Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam,” Princeton University Press. 1987. Beginning with pg. 231 |-|]

“Tribal states must conquer to survive, and the predatory tribesmen who make up their members are in general more inclined to fight than to abstain. "How many a lord and mighty chief have our horses trampled under foot . . . we march forth to war, the ever renewed, whenso it threatens," one pre- Islamic poet boasts. "We slew in requital for our slain an equal number lof them], and [carried away an uncountable number of fettered prisoners . . . the days have thus raised us to be foremost with our battles in warfare after warfare; men find in us nothing at which to point their finger of scorn," another brags. "When I thrust in my sword it bends almost double, I kill my opponent with a sharp Mashrafi sword, and I yearn for death like a camel overful with milk," a convert to Islam announced. Given that men of this kind constituted Muhammad's following, we do not need to postulate any deterioration in the material environment of Arabia to explain why they found a policy of conquest to their taste. Having begun to conquer in their tribal homeland, both they and their leaders were unlikely to stop on reaching the fertile lands: this was, after all, where they could find the resources which they needed to keep going and of which they had availed themselves before. Muhammad's God endorsed a policy of conquest, instructing his believers to fight against unbelievers wherever they might be found; and if we accept the testimony of non-Muslim sources, he specifically told them to fight the unbelievers in Syria, Syria being the land to which Jews and Arabs had a joint right by virtue of their common Abrahamic descent. In short, Muhammad had to conquer, his followers liked to conquer, and his deity told him to conquer: do we need any more?

“The reason why additional motives are so often adduced is that holy war is assumed to have been a covr for more tangible objectives. It is felt that religious and material interests must have been two quite different things --an eminently Christian notion; and this notion underlies the interminable debate whether the conquerors were motivated more by religious enthusiasm than by material interests, or the other way round. But holy war was not a cover for material interests; on the contrary, it was an open proclamation of them. "God says . . . 'my righteous servants shall inherit the earth'; now this is your inheritance and what your Lord has promised you . . . ," Arab soldiers were told on the eve of the battle of Qadisiyya, with reference to Iraq; "if you hold out . . . then their property, their women, their children, and their country will be yours." God could scarcely have been more explicit. He told the Arabs that they had a right to despoil others of their women, children, and land, or indeed that they had a duty to do so: holy war consisted in obeying. Muhammad's God thus elevated tribal militance and rapaciousness into supreme religious virtues: the material interests were those inherent in tribal society, and we need not compound the problem by conjecturing that others were at work. It is precisely because the material interests of Allah and the tribesmen coincided that the latter obeyed him with such enthusiasm. |-|

Bedouin raid

“The fit between Muhammad's message and tribal interests is, in fact, so close that there is a case for the view that his programme might have succeeded at any point in Arabian history. The potential for Arab state formation and conquest had long been there, and once Muhammad had had the idea of putting monotheism to political use, it was exploited time and again, if never on the same pan-Arabian scale. Had earlier adherents of Din Ibrahim seen the political implications of their own beliefs, might they not similarly have united Arabia for conquest? If Muhammad had not done so, can it be argued that a later prophet might well have taken his role? The conquests, it could be argued, turn on the simple fact that somebody had an idea, and it is largely or wholly accidental that somebody did so in the seventh century rather than the fifth, the tenth, or not at all. |-|

“But the fact that it was only in the seventh century that the Arabs united for conquest on a pan-Arabian scale suggests that this argument is wrong. If we choose to argue otherwise, we must look for factors which were unique to Arabia at that particular time, not constants such as the feuds of Medina, and which affected the entire peninsula, not just a single city such as Mecca. Given the fit between Muhammad's message and tribal interests, the factors in question should also be such as to accentuate the perennial interests of tribal society rather than to undermine them in the style of Meccan trade as conventionally seen. There is only one development which meets all three specifications, and that is the foreign penetration characteristic of sixth- and early seventh-century Arabia.

Muhammad's Message Angers the Meccans

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: The reformist message Muhammad received, like that of Amos and other prophets before him, represented a powerful but unwelcome challenge to religious and tribal leaders and to businessmen, who comprised the religious and political establishment. Muhammad denounced corrupt business practices and called for social justice for the poor and women, and for children and orphans, the most vulnerable in society. He emphasized the religious equality of men and women and expanded the marriage and inheritance rights of women. Muhammad's prophetic message summoned the people to strive and struggle (jihad) to live a good life based on religious belief rather than loyalty to their tribe and to reform their communities. Most importantly, Muhammad's revelation in the Koran rejected the common practice of worshiping many gods, insisting that there was only one true God. He therefore threatened the livelihood of those who profited enormously from the annual pilgrimage honoring many different gods, the equivalent of a giant tribal convention. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Goldstein wrote: “The Meccans were offended by Muhammad’s preaching that the ideal was submission. (Islam means submission.) He taught that the proper way to pray was to bow, forehead to the earth, “a posture that would be repugnant to the haughty Quraysh,” Ms. Armstrong notes. Muhammad also insisted that the Meccans abandon the worship of their three stone goddesses, because there was only one God, Allah. Muhammad and his followers were exiled to Medina, 250 miles north of Mecca. He did not conquer Medina so much as form alliances and win converts. But there were epic battles with the Quraysh and other tribes, and Muhammad was a fighter and tactician.” ==

Muhammad's message was disturbing to many of the Quraysh for several reasons. The Prophet attacked traditional Arab customs that permitted lax marriage arrangements and the killing of unwanted offspring. More significant, however, was the Prophet's claim that there was only one God, because in condemning the worship of idols he threatened the pilgrimage traffic from which the Quraysh profited. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Saudi Arabia: A Country Study, U.S. Library of Congress, 1992 *]

Muhammad and His Early Followers

Western depiction of Muhammad preaching

The first convert to what became Islam was Khadija. Over time Muhammad attracted a small group of devoted followers. Within a year after he began preaching he had 40 followers. Most of them were family members, poor tribe members, women and slaves and they included his young cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, and his friend Abu Bakr. These 40 followers were the first Muslims.

The religion conveyed by Muhammad began to gain momentum when important people in Mecca were swayed by his teachings. Among them was Othman ibn Affan, a young merchant from the powerful Umayyad family. The beauty of the poetry of the Qur’an won many early converts. Among these were Omar ibn al-Khattab, a devoted pagan and of poetry, who said “When I heard the Qur’an, my heart softened and I wept, and Islam entered into me. Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman and Ali would become the first four caliphs after Muhammad's death.

Early Muslims prayed three times a day. They prostrated themselves on the ground, an act that had previously suggested humiliating subservience, to express their selfless submission to Allah. They also gave alms to the poor and fasted during the month of Ramadan, to show empathy for and solidarity with the poor. More emphasis was placed on building a just society than on indulging oneself in rituals and dogma. The practicality of Islam appealed to the Arabs, a desert people for which practicality was often a matter of survival.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: During the first 10 years of Muhammad's preaching, his community of believers remained small and under constant pressure and persecution. In an increasingly hostile environment they were compelled to struggle to stay alive. The life and livelihood of the community were eventually threatened by sanctions that prevented them from doing business and that were literally starving them out. This hardship may have contributed to the death of Khadijah, and after his fortunes were destroyed, Abu Talib, Muhammad's protector, also died. Muhammad was now a likely and proximate target for assassination. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Honoring Muhammad as a Religious Figure

Muhammad in a mosque

After his death Muhammad was not acclaimed a god but rather a perfect man, who should be emulated. Even while he was alive relics like his hair, swords and footprints were collected. With Buddha and Jesus these actions did not begin in earnest until after they died. After Muhammad died some sects called him a perfect sinless being and another called him a divine being that emanated from God's head and had existed since the beginning of time. ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

Muhammad claimed he was just an ordinary man and refuted any suggestion that he was divine or had divine powers. He admitted he was human and made errors just like everyone else and denied he had the ability to perform miracles. The sole miracle he was associated with was the Qur’an and that was God’s doing not his.

Despite his best efforts to prevent such a illusions, a number of miracles were attributed him: splitting the moon to confuse his Meccan adversaries and travel from Medina to Jerusalem to paradise in a single night. These, some scholars say, seem to fulfill a need to regard Muhammad as something more than just an ordinary man. See Miracles.

Depicting the prophet in art or drama is considered a form of sacrilege or blasphemy. When a film entitled “Muhammad, Messenger of God” was shown in Washington D.C. in March 1977, a group of American Hanafi Muslims, angered by the film, shot and killed one person and took dozens other hostage. Ironically the film was financed with Arab money and told the story of Muhammad without ever showing him.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

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